There is perhaps no other brand in the world that is as tightly controlled as the Disney brand. Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters are global icons, and as such, the Walt Disney Company takes great pains to protect the reputation of their characters and theme parks.
That’s part of what makes a movie like “Escape from Tomorrow” so unusual. The indie drama from first time filmmaker Randy Moore debuted to positive reviews at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, but has also garnered a great deal of controversy due to its setting. The surreal, black-and-white film follows the slow descent into madness of a father on vacation with his family at a very famous theme park. It’s that theme park in question that makes “Escape from Tomorrow” unique – and what seems to be causing most of the controversy.
You see, Moore shot his film guerrilla-style over a period of three years on location at California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Disney World – entirely without permission of the House of Mouse.
The juxtaposition of the film’s squeaky-clean setting and its uncomfortable subject matter – which reportedly features a married father of two obsessing over underage girls while essentially going insane – have created a lot of buzz for Moore’s film at Sundance. Disney characters, theme park rides, and locations reportedly figure quite prominently in “Escape from Tomorrow” – and even the film’s title has a Disney thrill ride vibe to it.
Using a small Canon digital camera while on location, Moore reportedly had to use his phone to signal his actors and crew to get into positions whenever a shot was about to begin. Similarly the cast kept their scripts on their smart phones so as to not draw attention to themselves. While in production, Moore also swore his cast to secrecy, fearing that Walt Disney might somehow get wind of the project and hit him with a cease-and-desist letter. Moore even decided to take the film to South Korea for post-production to maintain that low profile. Given the $100-plus daily admission prices for the Disney parks, it's safe bet that most of "Escape from Tomorrow's" budget probably went towards buying tickets for the Disney theme parks. Hopefully Moore and company opted for the season pass option.
Many movie critics have speculated that "Escape from Tomorrow" will never screen commercially because of the illegal manner in which it was shot and the fact that it uses many Disney characters without the permission. Distributing such a movie would almost inevitably be inviting a lawsuit from Disney.
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However, the director just seems happy that the cat (or, in this case, the mouse) is out of the bag, and wouldn't be opposed to seeing the film get passed around for free, "mixtape style."
“If this never gets distribution, that’s OK. If not a lot of people see it, that’s OK,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times. “I made it, and it’s in the world. That’s all I ever really wanted.”
If the positive Sundance response is any indication "Escape from Tomorrow" sounds like an interesting project. Here's hoping prospective audiences will have a chance to see the film before Disney almost inevitably buries it in a Space Mountain of litigation.